The coronavirus pandemic — and the reactions to it — have produced a fair share of scares for 2020. Throw in a presidential election and cultural unrest, and it kinda makes you wish for some run-of-the-mill heebie-jeebies.
This Halloween season, several haunted attractions are answering the call.
Operators say they're taking safety precautions prescribed by public health officials, including the expectation of face masks and social distancing. The idea is to make their manufactured scares an antidote to the terrors reality is dishing out.
Many customers say they need the escape, says Connie Early, owner of The Haunted Barn in McDonald, Tennessee. Early took a Facebook poll of likely visitors before she opened this year and says she got an 82% positive response.
"That was more than I anticipated," she says. "I don't think [the coronavirus] is going to hold anybody back. The ones that really like haunted houses are still going to come."
At Dread Hollow, timed-entry tickets will help limit capacity inside the haunted attraction. It's one of several health and safety measures producers are "seamlessly including" this year, says Kara Van Brunt, executive director of Ruby Falls, which produces the off-site attraction. Other measures include physical distancing, protective face covering requirements and enhanced cleaning of touch points, "plus guests will not be combined with others outside of their social bubble," Van Brunt says.
Here's a look at five places around the Chattanooga area where you can chase down a few scares. Just know that eventually you'll have to come back out to face the frights of the real world.
And remember it's always a good idea to check websites before you go for full details and recent updates.
Email Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Where: 321 Browns Ferry Road.
* When: 7-10 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, 7-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 1.
* What to expect: This year's theme, Cursed, foretells the fate of the scourged town as its disturbing past returns with a vengeance. The story plays out across 20,000 square feet, where visitors will encounter the criminals of Ravens Gate Prison, dark forces conjuring the dead in Broken Coven and the fog-shrouded river beasts of Harbinger Bay. "Every section of the haunt this season has meticulous details ominously surrounding guests as they journey through the sinister underbelly of Dread Hollow," says co-creator Todd Patton.
* How much: $25 (additional charges for Deliverance Escape Rooms and other optional activities).
* Contact: 423-800-0566, dreadhollow.com
THE HAUNTED HILLTOP
* Where: 8235 Highway 58.
* When: 7 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays in October.
* What to expect: Look for an expanded building with new props and state-of-the-art animatronics and live actors providing scares, along with a haunted hayride through the woods and cornfield. Other attractions include a vortex tunnel, bonfires, outdoor heaters, concessions, souvenir shop, outdoor TV and music. Operators say they've lowered prices this year to help people whose income has been affected by the coronavirus.
* How much: $20 for hayride and haunted house, $15 for either; portion of proceeds goes to a children's Christmas charity.
* Contact: http://www.thehauntedhilltop.com/home.html
THE HAUNTED BARN
* Where: 5017 McDonald Road, McDonald, Tenn.
* When: 7 p.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays in October.
* What to expect: Now in its 26th year, the attraction offers 16 rooms of frights, changed every year, for self-guided tours that end in a maze. Rather than animatronics, The Haunted Barn relies solely on live actors for its scares. "You never know when or where they may pop out," owner Connie Early says. If there's a wait before you enter, you can dance to the music of a live DJ, with a monster as a dance partner, around the bonfire or grab a snack at the concession stand.
* How much: $20.
* Contact: 423-396-9790, thehauntedbarnchattanooga.com
THE FRIGHT GUYS: HARVEST
* Where: 302 W. Willow St., Scottsboro, Ala.
* When: 7 p.m.-midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 7-10 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 8 (all times Central).
* What to expect: Now in its fourth season, The Fright Guys is open year-round, with haunts that generally change each month (after Harvest closes, the attraction will reopen with a Christmas haunt in December). Fairen Cooley, director of operations, describes The Fright Guys as more of a cinematic, interactive experience than a traditional haunted house. "People come out all the time saying, 'I feel like I've been in a video game' or 'It's like being in a horror movie,'" she says. Visitors should also expect a full-contact experience with possible touching by the actors. All of the characters' costumes and masks are designed and created by sports artist Greg Gamble, and each has an elaborate backstory. The Harvest theme is an original story about an institute for the criminally insane overtaken by a zombie apocalypse. The waiting area includes music with laser lights and a disco ball, theater room playing horror movies, arcade machines, concessions, a gift shop selling horror memorabilia and another selling Gamble's football artwork.
* How much: $22 general, $32 VIP.
* Contact: 256-599-9879, https://www.facebook.com/thefrightguys/
* Where: 592 Sam Ellis Drive NW, Rainsville, Ala.
* When: 7 p.m.-midnight CDT Fridays and Saturdays in October.
* What to expect: The old Rainsville Meat Market has returned to its slaughterhouse roots. Open at this location since 2018, the attraction outgrew the haunted trail owners Brook and Nathan Tomlinson initially did for fun, and then for small admission fees as the crowds grew, at their annual Halloween party at their home nearby. Brook Tomlinson says they completely tear down and rebuild each year, offering handmade props and original characters. With its racks and meat hooks, "the building itself does a lot for our haunt that we don't have to do," she says. About 50 actors staff it each night.
* How much: $10.
* Contact: 256-605-4501, https://www.facebook.com/PVslaughterhouse/
Chattanooga Ghost Tours is sponsoring a Halloween decorating contest for homes and neighborhoods.
During the last week of the contest, the public can vote for their favorites by posting an original photo of the site on that location’s entry on the Facebook page. Prizes will be awarded to both the winning house and the winning neighborhood. Prizes have been donated from local businesses and attractions, including Ruby Falls’ Dread Hollow.
Participants can register a house by sending an email to email@example.com with a street address and photo of their location for public posting. Winners will be announced on Halloween.